WIMBLEDON -- After losing the first set in the quarterfinals Tuesday, Serena Williams looked dejected and confused. She stared longingly at her racket for a moment in sheer disbelief.
It was the first frame she dropped during her 2018 campaign and ended an astounding 20-set win streak at the All England Club, dating back to 2016.
The sold-out crowd -- which included Drake, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel -- seemed stunned. A buzz came over Centre Court with people seemingly trying to make sense of it all. Serena's miracle run at Wimbledon, just her fourth tournament back from maternity leave, couldn't really be ending here on Centre Court against Camila Giorgi, the 52nd-ranked player in the world, could it?
The short answer to that question is no. But it was anything but easy and seemed very much in doubt until the final moments.
Ultimately, Williams found a way to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, but Giorgi gave her all she could handle. In the first set, the 26-year-old Italian, playing in her first Grand Slam quarterfinals, had Williams scrambling after her lightning-quick serves and nearly knocked her off of her feet with one that notched 118 mph. Giorgi won 84 percent of points on her first serve and nabbed three aces. She seemed undaunted by the stage or the opponent.
Despite this, and how it looked from the outside, Williams claimed she was never in any doubt that she would emerge victorious.
"Sometimes I feel, 'Man, I'm in trouble,'" she said after the match. "Sometimes I feel I can fight. For whatever reason, today I was so calm. Even when I was down the first set, I thought, 'Well, she's playing great. I'm doing a lot of the right things. It is what it is.'
"I never felt it was out of my hands. It's weird. I can't describe it. I just felt calm."
Even when Serena was on the brink of losing the set, she managed to hit a 122 mph serve, her fastest of the tournament. It appeared almost to be a reminder to Giorgi, who said on Monday that she doesn't watch women's tennis. "I went for it," Serena said. "I'm like, 'I'm going as hard as I can on this one.' I saw it was 122. It felt good."
And when Williams took the court for the second set, she did indeed look calm and composed -- and roared back with a vengeance. Everything from that point on seemed to click for Williams. She figured out Giorgi's strong serve, avoided any break points and had just four unforced errors.
Williams took the set in convincing fashion, 6-3, and yelled her trademark "Come on!" as she clinched the final point. The crowd cheered in adoration, and she looked rejuvenated as she took her seat during the break.
Looking to become the first Italian woman to make the Wimbledon semifinals, Giorgi did not let up, even when the match started to look like it was slipping away. She played a powerful game throughout -- averaging a 112 mph first serve on the day and had six total aces and 20 winners. It was a fearless performance that offered Williams one of her toughest tests since returning. Giorgi didn't provide much perspective after the match but insisted she was happy with her performance. "I play a great level today," she said.
But the third set was all Williams, and she recorded six of her seven aces -- making it clear she's moved well past the pectoral injury that forced her to withdraw ahead of the fourth round in Paris -- and seemed to be in control throughout. She won 44 of the last 54 points she served. She appeared emotional and relieved at the match's conclusion as she clinched her fists in victory and took a deep breath while smiling proudly.
In a tournament that has been defined by all of the top seeds falling early and shrinking in tough moments, Williams showed exactly why she is always among the game's best, even if her ranking doesn't reflect it. She never backed down from a challenge.
She is now two wins from her eighth Wimbledon trophy and from tying Margaret Court for the most Grand Slam titles in history at 24. When you consider Serena suffered major complications from childbirth just 10 months ago, and made her competitive return only in March, it's all the more astounding.
Williams next will face No. 13 seed Julia Goerges on Thursday in the semifinals. The two met last month in the second round at the French Open, with Williams winning in straight sets. "That was four or five weeks ago," she said. "That doesn't matter. This is a whole new match, it's a new surface, it's everything. We're starting from zero.
"I'm going to go out there and just do what I can, do my best, see what happens."
If her best is anything like we saw Tuesday, it seems like it will be an incredibly difficult task for Goerges to pull off the victory. But despite how close she is to another title and the record books, Williams is insistent that she doesn't need to win here to feel like her comeback has gotten off to a successful start.
"I'm just here just to be here and to prove that I'm back. And I feel like I'm back. I still have a long way to go to be where I was."